Taking Stock in Kosovo

Three full weeks into NATO's air campaign against Yugoslavia, it's time to again take stock. Is the bombing working? What about the refugees? Are diplomatic possibilities being pursued?

There's no doubt NATO's air attacks are taking a heavy toll on Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's warmaking ability. But it's a slow process, with costs on both sides. As bombs drop ever closer to civilian residences and take out structures as crucial to normal life as to military operations, NATO's moral superiority in this conflict will be questioned.

The goal is not to reduce Serbia to tatters, but to halt Mr. Milosevic's vicious assault against Kosovar Albanians. Military force should thus be concentrated on Serb forces in Kosovo, even if that means increased danger to allied pilots. And plans must be readied for the international ground force that will be required to enforce peace in the province and prevent continued ethnic conflict.

A longer-term goal is stability in this volatile, fragmenting part of Europe. That has to include returning Kosovars to their homes and massive aid to rebuild a politically autonomous Kosovo. Meanwhile, relief efforts to the refugees must keep pace with mounting needs.

As for diplomacy, it must accelerate apace with military actions. Milosevic's recent overtures had more propaganda value than actual substance. But he should be held to his professed willingness to let refugees return. The test, as NATO leaders have emphasized, is withdrawal of Serb forces involved in ethnic cleansing and agreement to an international force in Kosovo.

A second, very important diplomatic front is Russia. Moscow's aid should be diligently sought to bring Belgrade around, and to take part in the longer-range pacification of Kosovo. Washington, London, and other NATO capitals can't reiterate too often that Russia is viewed as a partner, not an adversary.

The adversary is Milosevic's noxious brand of ethnic nationalism. That bogus idea can't be bombed away. It has to give way to better ideas of democratic process and tolerance.

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